Border Collie Rescue: A View From the Trenches
This article originally appeared in Ranch Dog Trainer .

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A black and white tidal wave is upon us. Unwanted Border Collies are becoming an ever increasing problem. Invariably, they are given up because their herding instinct, left untrained and undiverted, ultimately leads to destructive tendencies. It's easy to think that these dogs all come from backyard breeders but that simply isn't the case. Most of the dogs accepted into rescue are well-bred. That's the root of the problem -- couch potatoes don't make waves. Most of these rescue dogs are sold by farmers or trialers who fail to educate those purchasing the dog.

You can help. There are a number of ways, but primarily education is the key to reversing the trend. How many times have we found ourselves extolling the wonder of Border Collies to those unfamiliar with the breed . That's only normal -- for us, they are the ultimate dog. However, bragging about Border Collies is a double edged sword. We must remember that we are not average dog owners. We need to make sure that the dogs we sell go to those people that are similarly situated.

Complicating the issue are movies featuring these wonderful creatures, television commericals, Letterman spots, and a book touting the Border Collie as the most intelligent dog in the world. What the average pet owner doesn't realize is how active these dogs are; that and, their above average intelligence has to be stimulated. Many simply don't lead a lifestyle that can easily accomodate a Border Collie's needs. Breeders need to educate buyers and, dare we say it, *not make a sale* if there is any possibility the dog won't be cared for properly. This may well mean that we will breed fewer litters as the demand is reduced through education.

Some Border Collies come to rescue as a result of improper breeding programs, where dogs were bred with no concern for proper temperament or sound behavioral genetics. But most Border Collies end up in rescue not because of their poor breeding, but rather, because their proper breeding has resulted in the creation of a dog with a single, well-defined purpose - herding. Now, more than ever, the Border Collie is being taken out of the context of the herding environment and placed in the role of family pet, and for the average owner, this spells trouble.

There are generally three reasons that Border Collies end up in rescue and they are all related to herding instinct. A small percentage of Border Collies come in to rescue as washouts in the working household, failing to exhibit the herding instinct necessary to get the job done. Not too long ago, dogs that didn't meet the requirements for a working environment were promptly euthanized. Ironically, it is these very dogs that make the best rescue placements in pet or non-herding families, as their instincts are not as intense as the working stockdog. Nowadays, more and more rejected working dogs are being turned over to rescue for placement in non-herding homes. Obviously not every dog bred for working stock will display strong enough herding instincts to make themselves efficient herding dogs on working farms. Rather than trying to work against the natural abilities (or inabilities) of the dog, what better way is there to curb the further need for the breeding of "pet" Border Collies than giving the dog over to rescue so that it can be placed in a more appropriate, pet home?

A larger proportion of the dogs are given up because they have bitten someone, almost inevitably a child. The herding instinct, if strong, is overwhelmingly incompatible with a household containing children. If we are going to sell a Border Collie to a family that wants it primarily as the family pet, then it is imperative that both the adult owners and their children are trained or educated in how to deal with the peculiarities of the herding instinct. It is important to remember that most people have no idea what the true "function" of a Border Collie is and because they look like any other "normal" dog, people treat them as such. There are countless numbers of pet owners that have the misperception that Border Collies are just like Labradors or Golden Retrievers, with the only difference being size, shape, and color. By far the largest percentage of dogs are turned in because they are hyper and far too difficult to handle. Most people are either not willing, prepared, or able to put in the large time commitment it takes to adequately exercise a Border Collie. Placed in the proper, active environment, the dogs can turn out to be wonderfully behaved and well-adapted but they need something to do. If the future family cannot commit to this to the breeder, then they shouldn't be sold a dog -- no matter how profitable it might be.

Unfortunately, things don't look any better for the future of Border Collie Rescue. The tidal wave is building. In the next few months, Border Collie rescuers can expect a large increase in the number of dogs brought in, as the backlash from the Christmas season purchases plays out its yearly cycle. But this year will be even worse. The release of the movie "Babe" and the AKC's acceptance of Border Collies into their ranks as an officially recognized registered dog will inevitably lead to a huge upswing in the breed's popularity . As more attention is focused on Border Collies, more people will be going out to buy another cute "Fly" or one of the "super-smart, Frisbee dogs". And no matter your position on the AKC debate, acceptance of Border Collies with the official AKC "seal of approval" only means one thing for rescuers - more dogs.

Border Collie Rescuers

Not all rescue groups or organizations are alike; therefore before adopting or relinquishing a BC or *donating* to a rescue group, take the time to investigate. There is a very broad spectrum of rescue operations -- from the simple referral service to the rescuer that screens potential homes, ensures proper veterinary care of the dog (including vaccinations and altering), does basic behavior modification if needed, and charges an adoption fee (generally $75 to $150 not including shipping) to offset costs.

A referral service means the rescue person never actually takes possession of the dog. Instead, someone that owns a dog (or a shelter has a dog) and who wishes to give it up, calls a rescuer who keeps the information handy in case someone should call wanting a dog. Because the rescuer never actually takes possession or even sees the animal, no guarantees can be made concerning behavior, age or health of the dog. In these circumstances, it is unrealistic for an adoption fee to be charged and generally no rules regarding the proper care of the dog are made.

Some rescuers have much more time, energy, and money invested than others. In general, reputable rescuers will require that an adopter fill out a questionnaire in order to judge what type of temperament the adopter can handle or whether the person needs another breed, or perhaps no dog at all. Ideally, the dogs are temperament tested to determine suitability in different lifestyles. After approval and dog selection, the rescuer will require a signed contract stipulating how the dog will be housed, cared for, and that it will be returned back to rescue if the adopter ever has to place the dog. Along with the contract will be information concerning foods and feeding schedules, any known veterinary work (always including altering, current vaccinations and heartworm test results), the dog's habits, and training it has received. These rescuers are the ones that need financial and varied other help. Most lose between $20 and $30 per dog adopted out *over and above* adoption fees charged. Since everyone has limited personal funds, donations are most welcome.

Since all rescuers and rescue organizations differ and since all rescue support organizations differ whether they are local, regional or national, it is best to check them out before making any kind of commitment. Make sure that if you are adopting a dog, it has been properly screened and comes with a guarantee that it can be returned if things don't work out -- the best rescuers insist on this. When donating money, make sure it will benefit the dogs. If you aren't directly donating to a person doing rescue but are giving to a regional or national support organization instead, be sure to ask how the money is alloted to individuals doing rescue. Sometimes, they may not receive any of the funds.

Volunteering to help out is one of the best ways to get involved with the breed and is certainly most welcome. It is important to realize that in order to help out with BCR efforts, one doesn't have to be willing to permanently adopt a dog to make a difference. There are hundreds of ways that to get involved, and lots of them don't even entail dealing with the dogs directly. Rescue can use your secretarial skills, envelope stuffing abilities, money-raising talents, advertising connections, pleasant phone personality, and more. Other talents needed are those in specialty fields such as law, dog training and marketing. Burnout is the biggest enemy of rescuers. Those that have to do everything on their own find their enthusiasm waivering. By taking some of the pressure off - by fostering a dog for a week or two, transporting one to the vet, or even making phone calls to help find potential homes - burnout can be avoided.

Copyright © 2004 Dr. Nicholas B. Carter.


Page last updated December 20, 2003. All material Copyright © 2004 Border Collie Rescue, Inc.
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